Lost in…Saint-Brieuc (Rennes v Brest)

Stade Brestois 29 v Stade Rennais F.C.

Stade Fred Aubert / Preseason Friendly / 15th July 2017

“So are you going home for the summer?” became a difficult question to answer in my final weeks in Slovakia – or at least a question which required a long-winded answer. ‘Home’ is and always be Quakers Yard in the Merthyr valley. But then Manchester is a sort of home to me these days and technically Trnava is currently ‘home’. Extra confusion about the concept of ‘home’ has been thrown up by my parents no longer living in the South Wales Valleys either.

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The village of Saint Servais in Brittany – the place my parents now call home.

My parents had spoken about moving closer to the seaside for years and as I set off for Slovakia last summer, they were giving the idea real, serious consideration. However, that plan soon got sidelined for another of their pipe dreams: moving to France. As a child, we regularly holidayed in France and my parents always expressed their love for the country. Now, after I moved overseas and with my brother living in Asia and Spain for over a decade now, my parents followed suit and this year sold our house in the Valleys and bought a lovely little home in rural Brittany. So, before heading to my true home in Wales for a few days, I also wanted to go check out my parents’ new home in Brittany.

Me and Craig arrived into tiny Dinard Airport early Monday afternoon and an hour or so after we were arriving into the Breton village of Saint Servais. Saint Servais is small – very small. The village is tucked away in the French countryside and the nearest ‘big’ village is Callac, a village that is a million miles away from being a thriving metropolis. However, a week in the peaceful rural French countryside was exactly what I needed after an action-packed year. We spent most of the time just relaxing with trips to places like The Valley of the Saints (essentially a hill with hundreds of statues of saints – it’s really cool) and to a market in a nearby village which seem d to be completely dominated by British expats. We had headed to France with no real agenda, but of course football seeped into it.

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The Valley of the Saints in Brittany. There are 100s of these statues and they’re making more!

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The Saint of…eh…racing cars?

Our first taste of football culture was a trip to Guingamp, the nearest town to my parents’ new home. As a result of this geography, of course I’ve decided that French top flight club En Avant de Guingamp are now ‘my French club’. Guingamp weren’t at home while we were in France, but we did make sure to give their ground a visit; well, sort of a visit – we did get shouted out of the place as soon as we walked through the ground’s gates by a Frenchman hanging out of the window above one of the ground’s entrance. We were made far more welcome in the club shop in the town centre.

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Stade de Roudourou: the home of EA Guingamp.

3 days after being denied a wander of Guingamp’s ground, we were heading to another football ground and this time to actually watch a match. We were heading to the town of Saint-Brieuc on the French coast and to the home of 4th division Stade Briochin: Stade Fred-Aubert. However, we would not be seeing Stade Briochin play on this Saturday evening, but instead the more renowned French club names of Brest (sniggers) and Ligue 1 club Rennes.

We left for Saint Brieuc early Saturday afternoon, but first made a detour to the small cove of Pordic to see a bit of the English Channel. The beach there was a rather hidden away one, although I was more traumatised by the sheer amount of crab limbs scattered across the beach (I am ridiculously terrified of crabs for some reason). But, after a pit stop for baguettes for lunch (we had embraced French culture properly all week) we arrived into Saint Brieuc.

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Pordic coast.

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The whole beach was like this and for someone with a fear of crabs I didn’t want to hang about too long,

Throughout the week we had learned of the links between Brittany and my native Wales. The Breton and Welsh languages have some clear similarities and the Breton anthem even has the same tune as the Welsh national anthem, Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau. This link apparently derives from us Welsh being descendants of three Brythonic Celts who crossed the channel and settled in the southern parts of Great Britain. The town of Saint-Brieuc carries on the Welsh-Breton link, as the name Brieuc come from the Welsh monk Brioc, who christianised the region in the 6th century and established an oratory there. Plus, the town is twinned with Aberystwyth – a bastion of Welshness.

I’d never heard of Saint-Brieuc before arriving into Brittany earlier in the week and I was surprised at the size of it. It’s a lovely town too. We parked up by the town centre and wandered down the main high street, until a toilet break for some of our party required us to head into the nearest bar, which turned out to be a Best Western bar and hotel. I’ve never been a huge fan of white or wheat beers, but as the week had gone on my taste buds had adapted and I was beginning to enjoy the several Breton bière blanche. Craig had taken to the Breton drink scene a lot more seamlessly than me as the Bretons do love their cider it seems. He was again delighted by the cider on offer at this Best Western.

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The main high street.

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Craig enjoying more Breton cider.

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Through the cobbled streets of Saint-Brieuc.

My parents then left us to our own devices,as they drove off to explore a nearby valley, whilst me and Craig continued to enjoy the Saint-Brieuc bar scene. I actually felt bad that my parents left at that time, as we headed towards the old town of Saint-Brieuc and they missed out on what was easily the best part of the town in my eyes. Here we found a large square, where there was a mass game of bowls being played by the locals, enveloped in timber-framed buildings dating back to 14th-15th century just off from the town’s 13th century cathedral. As per usual, I wanted to in the rather battered looking, dingy bar at the bottom of the hill, but Craig wanted to go in a slightly plusher place on the corner halfway up the hill. Instead of arguing over taste in bars, we opted to do both. However, to speed up the process up of getting to the more characterful bar of my choice, I made sure we sat at a table on a hill, where Craig spilled his drink immediately…okay, I may have hit the table and his drunk slid down it (I didn’t do it on purpose, I promise!) He rescued most of his drink anyway and made us change our spot to a more even gradient; although our new spot did require us to watch some smug-looking, hipster, ginger folk hanging out of a timber building, sipping beer and generally lauding it over those below how happy they were with their clearly very nice hotel setup.

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Bowls in the square.

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My bar of choice on the right. Funny little place.

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Old town…

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…and it’s array of timber buildings.

After enduring gravity-endorsing tables and boastful, beer-swigging gingers, it was on to my bar of choice. We had decided we would continue to enjoy the beautiful weather and sit outside, but first we had to head into the darkness of the small bar. Unsurprisingly, there was no-one in here, until the French barman came strutting in from enjoying his own beer outside with his Rastafarian friend. Clearly, the darkness of the bar had disorientated us in the sunshine, as as soon as we sat down, Craig spilled his whole drink over the cobbled drinking area. It seemed that the barman did know the basics of ‘bar English’ by asking “Smash?” to which the answer was “Non” – no smashed glass, just a small river of cider running down the street instead.

We’d had enough of spilling drinks onto the French streets and so with a bit of googling we decided to start finding our way to the ground. There was plenty of time to make the 18:30 kick-off, so on the apparent 20 minute walk to the ground we decided we’d take in another bar, more than likely to be found in the more residential area away from the town itself. Conveniently, for those souls coming from Rennes and Brest for some preseason action this evening, the ground is located very close by the expressway that connects Rennes and Brest.

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Even the road signs knew about tonight’s preseason friendly.

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The street leading to Stade Fred Aubert.

Away from the centre, the town was predictably less loved and rather bland. Also, more tragically for us, there were a distinct lack of bars too – just a Dominoes Pizza outlet. Nevermind – we decided that we would just be at the ground a bit earlier than planned and hopefully we could entertain ourselves for an hour or so in the club bar there.

From the fairly tattered-looking houses lining the main road, we veered left into a another housing estate and found ourselves in a far more salubrious area with some absolutely stunning and quirky housing. Halfway down said street, we spotted a group of people wearing the red and black colours of Rennes and then spied a few hatches of a small building selling tickets for the evening’s preseason friendly. Tickets in hand for €9 a piece and it still wasn’t totally obvious where the entrance to the ground was. There was still over an hour to go until kick-off and the streets were hardly awash with fans, but we took a punt on following an elderly couple, who veered left down a small alleyway where at the end of it was the sign declaring to us that we had arrived at the Stade Fred-Aubert.

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Floodlights spied.

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“I’m going to do this stupid double thumbs up thing I always do…oh, you’ve already taken the photo…”

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That’s better.

The stadium’s eponym Fred Aubert was born in Saint-Brieuc and the chairman of Stade Briochin, as well as being a councillor for the town. Aubert would lose his life on the frontline during the Second World War, somewhere near the town of Hermeton-sur-Meuse just over the Belgium border. The stadium was named in his honour when it was built in 1990.

Stade Briochin have been around since 1904 and have largely featured in the French regional amateur leagues, but the building of Stade Fred-Aubert coincided with the most fruitful part of the club’s history as the 1990s saw Stade Briochin rise up to the French second tier, where they finished 6th. As can happen in football though, the rapid rise led to a more catastrophic fall, as by 1997 the club went bust and had to start again in the amateur leagues.

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The grandstand…

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…and the less interesting stand opposite.

So what of the Stade Fred Aubert? Well, we both instantly liked it. The ground consists of two stands. As we emerged from the entrance behind the goal to our right was a long seating stand that stretched the length of the pitch and opposite stood a more traditional grandstand. The floodlights were suitably rusted and traditional looking, much to my pleasure, although undoubtedly my favourite part of the ground sat behind the goal. Weirdly, I am a massive fan of football grounds with bankings and Stade Fred-Aubert fell into the category of ‘ground with a banking’. It was not the grassy banking I would have loved like the joyous ones at Congleton Town or the almighty Turton FC (yes, I am sad enough to regularly internally debate my favourite football ground banking), but it would do on this beautiful evening in Saint-Brieuc. To the bar.

There was a long open bar running alongside the grandstand, although ordering a drink there proved difficult. It was lovely to see a horde of old-timers running the bar (I assumed volunteers for Stade Briochin judging from their t-shirts) and with so many of them serving I thought service time would be rapid; I failed to account for the fact that their hearing wasn’t too great. Throw this in with the fact that I hadn’t studied French since I was 14 and communication between myself and the bar staff proved tricky all evening. I did eventually get the beer I desired (no cider for Craig here), but I then spotted something else on the menu: wine! Wine at football! How very French. I declared that later we’d enjoy some wine with our preseason French football, as I realised I had never done pitchside wine-drinking before (well, not since I won a bottle in a half-time raffle at a friendly between Curzon Ashton and Blackburn).

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Brest out for their warm-up.

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Rennes prematch warm-up.

It wasn’t long before the ground was filling up rather nicely with Rennes fans being the predominant of the two sets of fans; in fact, I think I saw just 4-5 fans clad in Brest colours all evening. I’d say a distinct lack of Brest on show this evening it seemed…anyway… A gentleman soon began walking around the ground sticking up teamsheets for the game. Me and Craig made for the one stuck to a floodlight and I was disappointed as I read it. The one-time ‘He’s going to be the next Zidane’ Yoann Gourcuff was not in the squad, nor was former Pompey, Spurs and victim to Ben Thatcher elbow assault Pedro Mendes. Sad times. They were the only ‘names’ we reccognised from the team’s squad when we had perused both club’s squads on Wikipedia earlier in the day. Nevermind, the beer (and wine later) would help me forget that. Who knows maybe we’d have an entertaining game too. Oh, of course not – it was preseason after all.

The PA system seemed very fond of 80s classics, which was certainly not a bad thing, especially when you get to witness one young gentleman in the stand passionately sing and gesticulate to Fame in a strong French accent. But, warm-ups were soon done, after some sort of small-pitched charity match, and we headed back to the grandstand ready for the teams to come out onto the pitch.

For last season’s Lost Boyos awards blog, the award ‘Best Entrance Music’ was created. Perhaps the folk at Stade Fred-Aubert had read it and tried to do something a bit different here as the teams walked out to the Star Wars theme. To be honest, it was far too grandiose for a meaningless friendly. Good effort though I suppose. Star Wars may have featured a monumental clash between good and evil on an intergalactic scale, but, as expected, Rennes v Brest was far from a thrilling clash of titans.

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Match action.

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Match action.

Both teams played some decent stuff at times, but as is usually the case in such games, the heart wasn’t in the game. I’d had enough of the grandstand in the opening minutes and so insisted we go sit on the banking – via a bar visit of course. Again, service was a struggle – not that I’m blaming the French for not being able to understand me in their own country. Accompanying my beer this time was a plastic tub of chips too; the food menu was far from extensive on this Saturday evening, but the chips definitely did the trick (and seemed to be very popular, as everyone seemed to have a tray of chips in their hand).

There was not a lot to get too excited about until the 32nd minute when Brest took the lead. A shot from out on the right was saved by Diallo in the Rennes goal, only for the ball to roll to the Brest no.23 to smash in from inside the box. I just about caught the goal as it happened, but Craig missed it – something that would become a running theme over our next week of watching football in Wales too.

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Match action.

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Griezmann takes a day off training to come watch preseason football in Brittany..and have a haircut it seems.

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Match action.

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1 – 0 to Brest at half-time.

There was one epic moment minutes later when Rennes really should have scored from a corner only for a backtracking Brest defender somehow to get back on his line and smash a clearance onto his own bar and out. But that was it for the first half action and so with minutes left we went for a wander of the ground and to pose for photos under the floodlights.

Half-time: Brest 1 – 0 Rennes.

The bar area was packed at the interval, so we hung back for a bit before I made my move to make my wine purchase. This seemed even more of a nightmare for the bar staff, as I tried to order one red wine, for me, and one rose, for Craig. It was a long song and dance of me pointing to what I wanted and even grabbing the plastic cups at one point to demonstrate I wanted a different wine in each one, but it was just not processing with my barman who kept going to pour two reds and then two roses. We got there in the end though and so for the second half we sat on the banking drinking wine. Beautiful.

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Red wine and football.

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Match action.

The first half was not exactly full of thrills and spills and like most preseason friendlies, the second half was even quieter. Not that we were too bothered – we were happy with the sunshine and the wine.

In the 50th minute it was made 1-1 much to the (partial) joy of the Rennes numbers that made up the majority of the evening’s crowd. This time we both missed the goal. D’oh.

As the sun set over the grandstand, parts of the crowd began heading for the exits as the clock behind the goal headed towards 90. It looked to be finishing one apiece, but Rennes had once last attack. Rennes played the ball across the box from the right and their attacker smashed one in off the post in the dying seconds to make it 2-1 and to seal a preseason win for the team.

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View from the small banking.

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View from the bar.

Full-time: Brest 1 – 2 Rennes.

A typical preseason friendly, but we had a very enjoyable evening nonetheless. Wine, sunshine and football works surprisingly well. ‘Pleasant’ is how I would describe my first ever French groundhop.

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Full-time.

My Dad was on his way back into Saint-Brieuc with his van and with the ‘interesting’ setup he had made in the back to shuttle us around, we decided to get some drink for the hour-long journey back to my parents’ Saint Servais abode. I was delighted to find bottles of Punk IPA in the small French supermarket on the high street and soon enough I was back in my dad’s van enjoying them all the way back to Saint Servais.

A nice gentle introduction to French football groundhopping for me, but with my parents now adopted Bretons, I have no doubt I’ll be back for a more meaningful game in the near future. Hopefully that will be at Guingamp.

Highlights: Saint-Brieuc is a nice town, old town is cool, cool ground, wine drinking pitchside, the banking.

Low Points: repeated drink spilling, not too much near the ground, typically dull friendly.

All my photos to come soon on my Flickr page.

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